We live in an increasingly connected world where it is harder to unplug from the daily din of life. Social media allows us to interact with anyone, anywhere, who is in isolation even if there is no one physically surrounding us. A virtual presence can provide us with instant responses from anywhere but it can’t create a physical one. It’s the physical presence that forms social bonds not forged through social media.
I came across a news segment as part of the CBS Sunday morning show when I became acquainted with the story of Noah Brocklebank. Noah’s story sheds light on the power of social media as a force for good and yes, evil. Noah’s means of communication via Instagram nearly killed him but more impressively, it saved him.
According to the Daily Mail, Noah posted photos of cuts on his arm on Instagram and scheduled a suicide attempt on February 8, 2013, his thirteenth birthday. Noah’s predicament describes the irony of social media – connected to millions while suffering alone.
Noah explains how bullying by his peers compelled him to take such violent action, “I just felt like everything was worthless. My life was terrible. I had no one.”
Noah’s trials and tribulations come at a time when the public has associated social media with cyber bulling, a rising public health issue. Is it possible to be connected to everyone yet no one all at once? Can we derive the necessary emotional support through the medium of social media or is a human element missing from an online experience?
After Noah’s mother submitted him to the hospital for eight days, she enlisted the help of friends to send Noah letters to communicate the value of life. Unforeseen by his mother, the letters sent to Noah became an international phenomenon, part and parcel due to social media. According to the New York Daily News, over 7,000 letters poured in from Japan, Australia and Ireland offering their words of wisdom on how to combat bullying and depression. Since then the “Letters for Noah” Facebook page received over 15,000 likes. A “Letters for Noah” Twitter account was launched as well as a “Letters for Noah” website.
While the Internet becomes viral with Harlem Shakes and Angry Cat Memes, the voices of those hurting from social anxieties tend to get lost. Internet marketing companies and their client social media profiles can come and go but there is only one Noah Brocklebank.
It’s hard to weigh the positives and negatives associated with social media. While Instagram gave Noah the means to publicize his attempted suicide, it also allowed him to reach out in order to possibly save his life.
The letters flooded in from around world are a testament to the widespread appeal and influence of social media, all of which highlight the power of an anonymous social network. Does an anonymous social network afforded by social media provide us with a more effective support system than a physical, well – known and established one? Are those who help us the most those who know us best or those who know do not know us at all?
Noah’s story ultimately questions the kinds of social networks we depend on even during the gravest of hours. Can social media create infinite social opportunities not available anywhere else, including the physical realm?
In the digital age we increasingly rely on the help and counsel of those we don’t know. It’s this kind of collective wisdom that is becoming the type of emotional support we now lean on. We can take solace in the idea that we share similar sentiments and experiences no matter where we originate. Social media allows us to find out we have more commonalities than at first glance and have at least one person to talk to no matter how alone our Facebook friends make us feel.